First Aid Daily: 3- Frostnip and Frostbite, trying to keep your fingers on..

I’ll do my best with this post to avoid the temptation of putting images of grim frostbitten limbs at the end…

It is seeming to be quite a bitter winter now, with the first snowfall in some areas. Luckily, unless anybody plans on heading up Ben Nevis over the next few weeks, frostbite will hardly be a problem you’ll have to face. Frostnip is far more common to see in this country, however, as Centric operates in several countries, there’s no harm in looking into both.

When we typically think of burns, we usually associate large amounts of heat damaging our skins. However, cold has the same effect, even to the point where there are several different levels of severity, similar to ‘degrees’ of heat burns. However to simplify, imagine if frostnip is a 1st or 2nd degree burn from cold, and frostbite is a 3rd degree burn from cold.

Frostnip can happen in quite easily in cold temperatures, and it is usually on the extremities (think fingers, toes, face etc.) It is simply the freezing of the outmost layer of skin. Frostnip can be identified by the yellowing/whitening of the skin, a softness when touches and a painful feeling similar to ‘pins and needles’ in the area.

To treat frostnip, we must first check if there are other more severe cold related injuries first, since hypothermia poses a larger threat. Following this we must;

  • Protect the area from further cold exposure, this can be done simply by insulating it. Thick socks, or gloves can we worn and the area could be wrapped in a spare jacket or scarf. If this isn’t possible, and if the area is on the hands, i suggest placing the hands under the casualties armpit’s for a good method of warming.
  • Get the casualty out of the cold if possible.
  • Rewarm the area to the best of your ability, this can be done by placing the injured site in a water bath of about 40^C for around 20 minutes.

Frostbite however, is a completely different story. It can usually be identified by a waxy-feel to the skin, numbness in the area, and several colours may be present, from red, grey or all the way to black. To treat we must follow the instructions above, in addition, we should;

  • Avoid massaging the area.
  • Prevent the casualty from smoking due to the effects on circulation.
  • After rewarming the area, cover with sterile dressings to prevent infection and seek further medical advice                                                                                     -Elliot James